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Pinocchio Parenting: 21 Outrageous Lies we Tell Our Kids

(Howard Books)

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Pinocchio Parenting: The Lies We Tell Our Kids

By Dr. Chuck Borsellino “Liar, liar… parents on fire!”  That’s what 15 year old Dillon shouted to his parent’s right after they told him another one.

Unfortunately, he’d heard most of them before:

Your fish went to live with their friends in the ocean.”

“If you make that face again, you’re face will freeze that way.”

“You can be anything you want to be.”

“Looks don’t matter; it’s what’s on the inside that counts.”

“It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”

“God helps those who help themselves.”

And the one we’ve all told our kids:

“When I was your age, I walked to school… in the snow… without shoes… uphill… both ways.” 


The truth is…everybody lies.  Toddlers, teenagers, and adults. Deny it, and you’re probably lying.  Small lies are called “fibs.”  Big lies are called “whoppers,” and necessary lies are called “white.”  Hmmm.

We live in a culture where lying is commonplace…the same way that fish live in a culture that’s wet.  According to the book The Day America Told the Truth, 91 percent of Americans surveyed admitted to lying routinely. On average, we lie about twice a day.  Unfortunately, that’s more often than most of us brush our teeth.  When our parental backs are against the wall, lies and clichés just slide off the tips of our tongues like a politician before Election Day.

Why We Lie

To lie has become as American as apple pie.  We lie to protect ourselves; we lie to promote ourselves.  We lie to elevate ourselves; we lie to excuse ourselves.

We’ve become a nation of “Pinocchio Parents”.  Soon after we learned how to walk, we learned how to lie (“Mommy, I didn’t do it.)  Later in life, we’ve learned how to tell money lies (“The check is in the mail.”), math lies (“I just turned 39.”), medical lies (“The doctor will call you right back.”), work lies (“I can’t come in to work today, I’m sick.”) and necessary lies (“Fat? No honey, you look great in that outfit.”).

While every lie has its consequence, the most damaging lies of all are the ones we tell our kids.  Why? Because they erode our parental credibility and distort their reality.  As a psychologist, I’ve seen hundreds of kids in therapy and I’ve concluded that while its unhealthy behaviors that prompted the trip to my office, its unhealthy beliefs that lay behind the behaviors.  Beliefs determine behaviors.  Unhealthy behaviors are based on unhealthy beliefs-- change the beliefs and you change the behaviors.  Unfortunately, we become what we believe.  

Our purposes may be noble, but we lie to our kids for three main reasons.  First, to help them make sense out of their circumstances (That’s OK honey; he wasn’t good for you anyway).  Secondly, to bring assurance to their anxieties (Looks don’t matter, it’s what’s inside that counts) and finally, to inspire them to reach beyond their limits (If you can dream it, you can do it).  The problem is—while each of these statements sounds good, none of them are true.  Each one contains a little bit of fact and a little bit of fiction.  

Living By The Lie

Let’s take a look at a few of the more common lies we tell our kids:

Lie #1. You can be anything you want to be.  Really?  It’s a belief that’s fashionable, but is it factual?  Seventy-five percent of parents think so, but that doesn’t make it true.  Can you teach a bird to swim or a fish to fly? Can an acorn become a rose bush… or a leopard change its spots (Jer. 13:23).  Of course not. It’s a lie that’s based on a belief that our desires produce dreams.  They don’t.  Desires may direct your choice, training may develop your mind, and motivation may fuel your fire, but ultimately the difference between average and awesome is ability.

God created each of us unique. Could Beethoven carve a statue like Michelangelo? Could Mozart draw like Picasso. Could Picasso become an accountant?  The numbers just wouldn’t line up.  Literally.  

As a parent, my job is to help my children discover and then develop the unique gifts that God has invested in them.  Kids cannot be anything “they” want to be, but they can ask God what plans and purposes He created them to fulfill (Jer. 29:11).  After that, it’s easy. Help them develop the best they can, teach them to do the most with what they’ve got… and encourage them to do it in a way that nobody has ever done before.

Lie #2. It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, its how you play the game. Really?  Then why does everybody keep score?  In school, in sports, and in the workplace-- everyone keeps score.  I

The Dallas Mavericks play basketball in the NBA.  They just spent millions of dollars on an 8-sided, 360-degree electronic scoreboard.  Why?  Because in the NBA, they keep score.  Do the Mavericks have some of the nicest guys in the NBA on their team?  Yes.  Do the Mavericks work as hard on their ball handling, shot selection, and free throws as any other team in the NBA?  Yes.  Does Coach Avery teach them to play within the rules of the NBA?  Of course.  But did they score fewer points than the Miami Heat in the NBA Championship Series last year?  Yes.  As a result, Miami was offered congratulations, Dallas was offered condolences.  Score matters. 

I’m not saying that character doesn’t count.  It does.  As a parent, if I could only pick one, I’d choose character over competence any day, but I live in a world where both are important.  Parents are missing the mark if they teach their kids that score doesn’t matter.  It does.

In the classroom those with the highest grades succeed, those with the lowest stumble.  On the court, those with the most points move on, and those with the least points move over.  My point?  Winning isn’t everything, but they keep score for a reason.  The Apostle Paul put it this way:
"Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it" (I Cor. 9:24)

As a parent, let me encourage you to teach your kids to keep one eye on their character, one eye on their competence, and one eye on the scoreboard.

Like #3. Looks don’t matter, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Really? God may look in the inside, but all the research I’ve seen lately demonstrates that He may be the only one.

America is blinded by beauty.  Numerous studies have concluded that what’s on the outside conquers what’s on the inside hands down.  Relative to those not so physically blessed, attractive people are perceived as more competent, confident, and sociable.  At school, teachers demonstrate a “halo effect” towards the buffed, the bronzed, and the beautiful.  Teachers’ expectations are higher for good looking students and the academic performance of those kids matched these expectations.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy.  In the workplace, attractive candidates are more likely to be hired, more likely to be promoted, and more likely to be rewarded. As a matter of fact, attractive employees receive 9 percent higher incomes than their less attractive co-workers.

My message to parents?  Once again, what’s on the inside matters most, but telling our kids that appearance is irrelevant is simply not true.  Appearance is important, and first impressions are unforgettable.  Overemphasize it and our kids become superficial.  Underemphasize it and it costs our kids academically, socially, and vocationally.  Work with your kids to make their appearance count -- not cost. Braces? Not an issue.  Attractive clothes?  Not a problem.  Breast implants for high school graduation, not a chance!

The truth is-- I’ve been a Pinocchio Parent just like you.  These lies slid off the tip of my tongue without examining the truth or considering the consequences.  Today, I’m committed to telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth… so help me God. Three down, only 18 more to go…

Want to learn more about the lies that parents tell their kids? Check out Dr. Borsellino's book, Pinocchio Parenting: 21 Outrageous Lies We Tell Our Kids .


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Adapted fromPinocchio Parenting: 21 Outrageous Lies We Tell Our Kids by Dr. Chuck Borsellino. Published by Howard Books. Used by permission.


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